Three or four years ago, Theo and I decided to have a Hanukkah party. Theo dusted off his menorah, and I checked out a book from the library and decided to make potato latkes. Since my cooking skills are far from reliable, I determined to do a "practice run" of the latkes before the actual party. It's a good thing I did, because the first time I tried them, I put far too much oil in the pan, which burned, and left a pretty unpleasant odor in the apartment that Henrietta and I were sharing. The smell hung around for a few days at least. Fortunately it had cleared out by the time of the party, and the second run of latkes ended up being kind of a hit.
Then, last May, Eric and I had a little "neither-of-us-ever-have-to-take-another-math-course-for-the rest-of-our-natural-lives celebration". Since we both love Thai food, and since I have a Thai food cookbook, I leafed through it and found a recipe that I thought looked interesting and not too hard. It was some kind of corn fritter thing, which involved deep frying a batter with various vegetables in vegetable oil--kind of like tempura, but not really.
I had learned my lesson with the latkes, and so I decided that rather than burn the oil, this time I wouldn't let it get all that hot, and things would work out fine. Well, the result of that decision what that, although our home continued to smell nice and fresh regardless of my cooking adventures, we ended up with soggy, yucky, dough-ey corn and vegetable dough masses. Luckily, I had made enough side dishes that the failure of the corn experiment wasn't a big deal, and we continued our celebration.
So, last night . . .
I decided to try out a new recipe that Henrietta had e-mailed to me. Now, we aren't a deep-frying family these days, (as you know from reading the previous post) but this particular recipe did call for cooking the vegetables and chicken in a few tablespoons of hot oil. (The instructions were very particular about the need of the oil to be very hot). Since I had the little-masses-of-dough-that-were-supposed-to-be-corn-fritters fisaco still in recent memory, I determined that I needed to get that oil really really hot. That was probably a mistake.
(Incedentally, have you noticed how often the phrase "That was probably a mistake" turns up in this blog? I haven't actually counted, but I can tell you that it is much more often than it should.)
(Also incedentally, have you noticed how I seem to have a need to use more italics lately than I have in previous weeks and months? I have no explanation for that. Sorry)
(Now, back to our story . . . )
I put the burner on high, put the oil in the wok and (and here's where I think I really got into trouble), put the lid on the wok. Then I went back to chopping water chestnuts. After a few minutes, I noticed a bit of a smokey smell in the air. I looked at my wok, and saw a fair amount of smoke escaping from under the lid. Now, I have never pretended to be a gourmet cook, but even I knew that couldn't be good.
I removed the wok from the burner, and turned the burner down. I debated for a bit as to what I should do next, and finally determined to take the lid off the wok. (again--that might have been a mistake. I haven't decided for sure on this one.) Smoke billowed, and I mean BILLOWED out of the pan and into the kitchen. There was far more smoke than I have ever seen in one room at one time. Immediately my eyes were watering, my lungs were burning, and I was thrust into uncontrollable coughing fits. I rushed around, opening every window in the house, turning on fans, opening doors. It was a mess, a great, big, giant, awful, mess.
You might think at this point that I would give up and order pizza or break out the PB&J, wouldn't you? But, you'd be wrong. You'd also be forgetting who you were dealing with. The fact is, I really wanted to see how this particular recipe would turn out. So, I scraped the burned oil out of the wok (it took part of the finish of the pan with it), washed it, and put three more tablespoons of oil there, turning the heat to medium this time. There was still much more smoke in the kitchen than could really be considered healthy, and I went through yards and yards of Kleenex as my eyes and throat continue to burn.
(Another incedentally, I've decided that I can safely remove "firefighter" from my list of possible occupations)
The rest of the story is pretty basic. The recipe turned out great, and by the time Eric got home from the lumberyard, the smoky-ness had been reduced from something that caused huge coughing fits with every breath to something that caused you to wrinkle your nose and think to yourself "what is that smell?" every few minutes. Fortunately (for both of us, probably) Eric was a good sport about it, and hardly teased me at all. By the end of the evening, we had more or less forgotten about the burned oil, and only remembered the delicious lettuce wraps that we had feasted on.
Until this morning.
At about 7:15 a.m., as I ventured downstairs to leave for my morning walk, I smelled that pungent, wonderful odor, and I was suddenly transported in my mind, reliving the whole experience. I suppose it may be a few days before this little culinary adventure is nothing but a distant memory.
(These posts have been kind of long lately huh? I'll try to do a couple of short ones next)